George Yazigi raised his right hand, took his oath of American citizenship, and then sped off to care for immigrant farmworkers in one of Central Florida’s poorest communities. The UCF resident physician says his volunteerism after “the biggest honor of my life” was his way of “giving back to the community where I live.”

The timing of his citizenship ceremony — on the same day he worked at UCF’s Farmworker Association of Florida clinic — was a coincidence. Or maybe, he says it was meant to be, as a way to illustrate the importance of volunteering to help others.

“As a doctor, I see the need,” he says. “I have the chance and the ability to help those who need care.”

Yazigi grew up in Syria, where he attended medical school. Two years ago, he was selected for UCF’s Internal Medicine residency, a partnership with Osceola Regional and the Orlando VA medical centers.

He is in his second year of a three-year residency and hopes to become an interventional cardiologist because “so many people have cardiovascular disease, I want to help be a part of the solution.” He says he wanted to become an American citizen because “I love the principles this country stands for – freedom and the rule of law.”

“You have to give back, serve and engage with others. That’s your duty as a citizen.” — George Yazigi, UCF resident physician

But he believes citizenship comes with responsibilities: “You have to give back, serve and engage with others. That’s your duty as a citizen.”

He has witnessed around the world those in desperate need of healthcare. The Apopka clinic often sees about 100 patients in one night. They range in age from newborns to the elderly. Many work long hours in the fields or in greenhouses. Some are undocumented workers. No one has insurance. And they have little if any healthcare for chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Many suffer the effects of pesticide and sun exposure.

Judy Simms-Cendan, UCF professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of international experiences, helps run the Apopka clinic. She says residents like Yazigi are “wonderful role models and an incredible inspiration to our medical students. They reassure students that although residency is challenging, you can still have time to do meaningful service work and make a difference for the underserved in our community.”

David Simmons, an Orlando internist and UCF volunteer faculty member who helps with UCF’s global healthcare efforts, says the residents came to him asking to help in Apopka.

“The residents truly inspire me with their enthusiasm,” he says. Simmons also notes that the backgrounds of the young physicians are as diverse as the community they serve. He says they’ve had residents hailing from Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, India, Pakistan and Burma all take part.

The UCF-HCA internal medicine residency at Osceola Regional holds resident wellness programs in part to help prevent burnout for young physicians in training. Abdo Asmar, who leads the residency program, says volunteerism and giving back increase mental and physical wellness by helping residents focus on others.

Yazigi agrees. “At the end of a really long night of volunteering, you feel really good,” he says. “You’re energized and you don’t know why. But it’s because you gave back. You served.”